“Donna in the News” is my reporting of newly found newspaper articles and advertising regarding my grandmother, Madonna Montran (Donna Montran and Donna Darling). I am always excited when I find a new venue for my grandmother’s exciting show business career of the 1910s and 1920s.
This week I researched “Chin Chin,” the show Donna joined in October 1919, while it was already on tour. Thanks to Newspapers.com, I was able to learn of seven new appearances of “Chin Chin.”
The Greeley showing was an exciting find because the theater wasn’t identified. On November 27, 1919, the Windsor Beacon (Windsor, CO) reported:
MANY TAKE IN SHOW AT GREELEY FRIDAY NIGHT —–
“Chin Chin” was the attraction which took many Windsor people to Greeley last Friday night. Among those known to have attended were:
Dr. and Mrs. T. B. Gormly…
(Note: Windsor is about ten miles northwest of Greeley.)
The 1921 Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide reports Both the “Republican” and the “Tribune” as newspapers that serviced Greeley. I’ll need to find sources for those newspapers when I write more about “Chin Chin” playing in Greeley.
[i]Vaudeville Trails Thru the West “By one who knows” – Herbert Lloyd, page 98, reports only one theatre in Greeley, Colorado, the Sterling Theatre. It indicates the Sterling operated on Thursday for a 3PM matinee and an 8:15 PM night show. This could have been a special Friday night show. Alternately, the 1921 Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide for 1921 indicates that a second theater, the Rex Theatre, J. Lynch, Mgr. had a seating capacity of 800 and also played Traveling Companies.
Donna joined the “Chin Chin” production on 30 October 1919 when it played the Lincoln Square Theater in Decatur, Illinois. After the show in Decatur, the cast and crew traveled the 50 miles northeast to Urbana for a Halloween show.
I learned of this showing thanks to the marvelous Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. My thanks for their collection, which is free to search, browse, and download. In researching “Chin Chin” playing at the Illinois Theatre, I found three different papers that carried articles and advertising for the show.
The Urbana Daily Courier
The first mention I’ve found for the show was in the Urbana Daily Courier dated October 25th. It was a standard display ad showing “Chin-Chin” would be at the Illinois Theatre in Urbania on Friday, October 31st.
Two days later, the same ad appeared, plus there was a photo showing “Aladdin and the American Girl in Charles Dillingham’s stupendous production of “Chin Chin.” Illinois Theatre, Friday, October 31.”
<1919-10-27 – The Urbana Daily Courier, Page 4 – Chin Chin – Illinois Theatre.jpg>
Finally, on October 30th, the Urbana Daily Courier had a written article on Page 5.
“CHIN CHIN,” COMING TO THE ILLINOIS OCTOBER 31
Do you remember when you were just a tiny chap, how you would read the “Thousand and One Nights” or the wonderful adventures of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “Sinbad the Sailor,” and all the rest of those fascinating characters, and how from out of them all emerged “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp,” as the prime adventure of them all?
And now, Aladdin—a very modern Aladdin—very much in love with an American girl, appears in Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin.”
In this musical play everything comes Aladdin’s way upon wishing and rubbing the wonderful lamp, thereby causing many strange and wonderful situations.
Walter Wills and Roy Binder, as the two slaves of the lamp, kept the audience in constant laughter thru the seven scenes of three acts that cover one hundred and fifty minutes of the most enjoyable fun.
Among the many features in this gigantic show are the Teddy Bear dance, Tom Brown’s saxophone band, a real circus tent with an “honest to goodness” bit white circus horse circling around the wing, while Mlle. Falloffsky performs the most daring and screamingly funny bareback stunts.
The Champaign Daily News
The Champaign Daily News began with the same advertisement as Courier on 26 October 1919, page 14. A slightly larger ad ran in the October 30th and October 31st papers. Also, on page 12 of the October 31st paper was a short advertising article.
At the Illinois.
Charles Dillingham’s sumptuous and only production of “Chin Chin,” as seen for two years in New York, comes to the Illinois theatre, Urbana, Friday evening at 8:15.
This delightful and famous entertainment will be presented in its original entirely with Walter Wills and Roy Binder in the lead. In the musically rich show such numbers a “Violet,” “The grey Moon,” “Love Moon,” “Goodbye, Girls, I’m Through,” and the comedy song, “Go Gar Sig Gong-Jue,” always receive hearty applause.
The book is by Anne Caldwell and R. H. Burnside, the lyrics by Anne Caldwell and James O’Dea and the music by Ivan Caryll, so well remembered for his ingratiating melodies in
“The Pink Lady” and “The Little Café.”
Seven gorgeous settings make up the stupendous production—pretty dresses, swift and grotesque dancing, and lots of prankish amusement, including Tom Brown’s clown band as the famous saxophone sextet.
Other principals with this, the only production of “Chin Chin,” are Joseph Robison, George Usher, Richard Bosch, English Cody, George Phelps, Marian Sleeman, Edna Peckham, Jessie Walsh, Violet Tree, Ethel Lawrence, Nora Seiler, Marie Cavanaugh, Margaret Sharpe, Helen McDonald, also Joseph Boyle and Thomas Bell as “Frisco,” the horse, and a large singing and dancing chorus of pretty girls and girls and girlies.—Adv.
This ad was submitted to the newspaper before Donna joined the show, so her name doesn’t appear. However, it does give a good listing of others in the show. All are worthy of further research.
The Daily Illini
The Student Newspaper of the University of Illinois, The Daily Illini, is another important source of information for the Champaign-Urbana area. The campus was only a few blocks away from the theater. It had a circulation of 1,500 and the Courier’s circulation was about 2,500.[i] The October 26th paper included a small ad, on page seven, similar to the ads in the Urbana Daily Courier; however, it also contained a short text ad in the Theatres column.
AT THE ILLINOIS
Tuneful and Joyful “Chin Chin”
“Chin Chin” with its six cylinder reputation behind it, just as tuneful and fantastic as it was when New York worshipped for two years at its Chinese fun shrine, will appear at the Illinois Theatre on Friday, October 31.
The story revolves around the missing wishing lamp sought at any cost by Edne Peckham as “Violet Bond,” the rich American girl, in the search for which the two happy coolies, enacted by Walter Wills and Roy Binder who rear many excruciating and nonsensical situations out of it, making it tower above a whole lot of the latter day musical comedies, then when these two gentlemen lay aside their Oriental garnishings and appear in burlesque of circus bareback riding, Celestial widows, side show ventriloquist and musicians extraordinary they cannot shunt off the encores that come.
On the day of the show, The Daily Illini ran both a display ad and a text ad describing the show.
AT THE ILLINOIS
“The Ragging of the Rag of Rags” with Walter Willis at the piano is one of the uproariously funny hits of “Chin Chin”. Instead of being on the wane, as a few prejudicedpersons
would like to believe, ragtime is steadily increasing from year to year. Ragtime will always be popular-anyhere, everywhere, except perhaps at a funeral.
Good ragtime music has become a standard article, and if the matter were put to a popular vote it would far outrank popular ETAOINHRDLU far outrank classical music by mere force of numbers, because nine-tenths of the people prefer ragtime and popular music.
This delightful and tuneful musical comedy with Walter Willis and Roy Binder in the leading roles is scheduled to appear at the Illinois theatre Friday, October 31.
The Urbana Opera House opened in 1908 and renamed the “Illinois Theater” sometime before 1913.
The 1913Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide indicates the seating capacity of the theater 1,440 – 432 Lower Floor, 402 in the Balcony, 546 in the Gallery, and 60 in the boxes. The theater was managed by the F. & H. Amusement Co.; Jos. F. Huechler was the Resident Manager.
In the 1921 Julius Cahn guide, there is an abbreviated listing for the Illinois Theatre. It only states that the seating capacity was 1,294, and the manager was J. E. Duncan.
Specifications for the Illinois Theater (Urbana)[ii]
Proscenium opening: 35×30 ft
Front to back wall: 43 ft
Between side walls: 66 ft
Apron 3 ft
Between fly girders: 56 ft
To rigging loft: 62 ft
To fly gallery: 27 ft
The Illinois Theatre was on the south side of Bone Yard Creek. A plank-covered culvert between West Main Street and the theater provided easy walking to the theatre from the north side of town.[iii]
What happened to theater?
According to a comment on Cinema Treasures, in 1923, the theater was owned by Zenith Amusement Company, a Ku Klus Klan organization, and was used for Klan activities. Four years later, on April 3, 1927, a fire destroyed the Illinois Theatre.[iv] The remaining shell was converted into apartments for a while then the building was demolished.
Today, the site contains an apartment building. Next door is a cafe and a small international and gourmet foods store.
[i] The Cahn-Leighton Official Theatrical Guide – 1913-1914, Page 179 & 180.
For this week’s Treasure Chest Thursday, I’m looking at a second clipping from the Donna Darling Collection relating to the Terrace Theater.
BATHING GIRLS NOW PLAYING AT THE TERRACE THEATRE
Miss Donna Darling, star with Beautiful Bathing Girls from the Motion Picture Studios, now playing at the Terrace theatre.
The stellar act at the Terrace theatre the first of the week is the Beautiful Bathing girls from the Moving Picture Studios, headed by Donna Darling. Fashions in bathing suits from 1860 down to the present are shown by these girls, who also give a good account of themselves in several dance numbers. Probably the largest early week night audience in many fonths [sic] witness the performance Monday night. Two other good acts and a feature picture, “So This Is Marriage,” complete the Terrace bill.
The silent film, “So This Is Marriage,” was released in 1924, confirming that this showing was from 1924 or 1924 and not any of Donna’s earlier Bathing Beauty shows.
Cinema Treasures reports there were 41 Terrace theatres in the United States. Thirty-seven of them opened after 1925. One was in Vallejo, California; Donna didn’t tour the west coast with this show. One, the Airdome, was a second listing for the Terrace in Danville, Illinois. The last one was the Terrace Theatre in Chicago. This is clearly a clipping from her show at one of the two locations, either Danville or Chicago.
Because Donna played the Empress Theatre in Chicago in October 1924, I suspect that this clipping is from her probable show in Danville in October 1924.
The venue was the Terrace Theatre in (Probably Danville, Illinois) but possibly Chicago.
The show was the “Beautiful Bathing Girls from the Motion Picture Studios” staring Donna Darling.
Finally, a review of the newspapers of the time yielded none currently available online for Danville, Illinois.
Date Unknown (Fall 1924- Spring 1925) – Danville, IL, Hollywood Revue of Bathing Beauties.
My second look at an ancestor begins with a review of what I think I know. Census records are among the easiest to find ancestors, so I often verify them first. Next, I look at Vital Records (birth, marriage, & death). Do I have all the records, are they properly sourced, have I gleaned all of the data from the sources that I possibly can. Are they any conflicts between various evidence? If so, have I analyzed those conflicts? Have I followed up on any previous items for follow-up or continued research? Does the evidence I have suggest further lines of research?
I originally wrote about Hugh Ellis Roberts (1884-1908) in my Blogger blog on 22 Feb 2016.
There is no surviving 1890 census, so the first, and only, census that Hugh appears in is the 1900 Census. The 1900 Census indicates that his mother owned the farm free, indicating I should look for property ownership. It also indicates her number on the Farm Schedule is #159, indicating I should look for her farm in the Farm Schedules. The census indicates that Florence could read and write, suggesting she went to school.
I initially based Hugh Ellis Roberts’ birth upon a pension file that his mother filed in 1888. It indicted that Hugh’s birthdate was 2 July 1844. However, I was able to find a birth registration entry for Hugh, which indicates he was born on 3 July 1844.
Conflicting Birth Info:
The birth register entry states Hugh’s birth was July 3rd, 1884 in Elk Prairie Township. His mother’s pension request file indicates he was born July 2nd, 1884. Also, some sources indicate Hugh was born in Spring Garden Township. (Elk Prairie and Spring Garden Townships are adjoining townships in Jefferson County.) The 1900 Census indicates that Hugh’s mother could not read or write, so it is certain that the information was second-hand in both cases. (One created by a Clerk, the other by a Lawyer.)
The registry entry was timely, within two weeks of the birth, however, it may have been provided by a third party. The Pension File was from November 1888, only four years after Hugh’s birth and the data had to have come from his mother as entered by her lawyer on a form. As such, there is no clear answer regarding Hugh’s birthdate. I am preferring 3 July as Hugh’s birthdate solely because the registry entry occurred closer to his birth. If new information comes forth regarding his birth I will reconsider what my preferred date and location are.
Hugh’s birth registration indicates his father, Asa Ellis Roberts, was 47 years old when Hugh was born, suggesting his father, Asa Roberts, was born in 1837. However, Asa’s marker on Find-a-Grave indicates his birth year as 1835. Additionally, the 1850 Census reports that Asa was 15 years old, again suggesting his birth year is 1835. So, I’ve decided to keep Asa’s birthdate as 1835 unless I find other compelling sources indicating otherwise.
Hugh’s birth registration indicates his mother, Patience Anna (Marshall) Dean Roberts was 38 years old when Hugh was born. That suggests she was born in 1845. During the 1850 Census, Patience was six-years-old suggesting her birth was in 1843 (assuming a December birthday). There was a birthdate affidavit (for civil war pension) which reported her birthyear being 1845. I’m not convinced that either birthyear is correct, so I’m leaving the 1843 birthyear as my preferred date.
Hugh’s birth registration states that Patience’s maiden name was Dean. However, Dean was the surname of her first husband. Patience’s maiden name was Marshall. In this case, I believe Hugh’s birth registration was entered incorrectly.
Illinois, County Marriages, 1810-1940 provides a registry entry for the marriage of “Ellis” Roberts and Clara Dell Scott. Both are reported to be 17 years old. Hugh Ellis was 16 and Clara was either 16 or 17. Patience did give permission for the marriage. Of interest, one of the witnesses was Clara Bilbrey(?) whose relationship is unknown. Also, J. R. Clark certified the marriage; I wonder who he was.
A little less than seven months after their marriage, Clara gave birth to my great-aunt and great-uncle, Carrie & Harry, on 22 May 1901.
Bert Allen Roberts, my paternal grandfather, was born on 20 Sep 1903.
Great-aunt Mable Ilean Roberts was born 2 June 1908.
Further Actions / Follow-up
Past Continued Actions
Confirm Death Date with original source documents.
Confirm Cause of Death.
Confirm Date of Birth – Complete (See above.)
Order Death Certificate from Franklin.
Find Property Record for Anna’s farm ownership (also number 4 below).
I need to determine the actual date and location of Harry Ray Roberts’ death.
I need to determine the date and location of Mabel Ilean Roberts’ death.
1900 Property Ownership of Patience Anna Roberts.
Look for Patience’s farm in the 1900 Farm Schedule #159.
Look for Florence having attended school. Although Hugh could not read and write, he may have attended the same school.
Who was Clara Bilbrey that was a witness to the marriage of Hugh and Clara?
Who was J. R. Clark who certified the marriage of Hugh and Clara? (Religious?)
Research locations for further information and background.
IL, Jefferson County, Spring Garden
IL, Jefferson County, Elk Prairie
IL, Jefferson County, Ina
IL, Franklin County, Barren Township
IL, Franklin County, Sesser
IL, Franklin County, Sesser, Hammond Cemetery
 Some records suggest Clara was born in 1883, other indicate 1884. I still need to do an analysis of her birthyear.
For this week’s Treasure Chest Thursday, I’m looking at a clipping from the Donna Darling Collection.
Cinema Treasures reported 41 Terrace theatres in the united states, but only one of them in a city named Danville – Danville, IL. Donna appears to have had two trips into Illinois with her Bathing Beauties, once in the fall of 1924 (September) and again in January/February 1925. So this show must have been from one of those periods.
This clipping is particularly interesting because it names the other girls in the show.
Betty Bryant of Ziegfield’s – A Prize Winner.
Mildred O’Brien – In Singing and Dancing.
Alyce Louyse – A Bather From Mars.
Clarice Allyn – Petite Toe Dancer.
May Walker – Blue Singer and Beach Flirt
It also mentions Murray Earl as Comedian.
The venue was the Terrace Theatre in Danville, Illinois.
The show was the “California Motion Picture – Big Hollywood Reue of Bathing Beauties, featuring Donna Darling.
Finally, a review of the newspapers of the time yielded none currently available online for Danville, Illinois.
Date Unknown (Probably Fall 1924or Spring 1925) – Danville, IL – Terrace Theatre – Hollywood Revue of Bathing Beauties.